HAVANA – Since they started issuing 30-day tourist visas in late October, the Panamanian Embassy in Havana has seen a number of Cubans victimized by scams.
Panama would give them the tourist visas and people would re-sell them, said Panamanian Ambassador Max Lopez, who added the $20 document would sometimes be resold for $250-$300.
In order to prevent the reselling of tourist visas, Cubans must now fill out the document before leaving the embassy. It delays the process, but the ambassador said it prevents such fraudulent activity.
This is one of the measures the Panamanian Embassy has taken in order to crack down on possible scams.
Lopez wants to alert the Cuban public so they're not victimized.
"We don't have outside people processing visas," Lopez said. "Everything is done inside the embassy in a transparent and clear way."
Some people have brought fake plane tickets, so the embassy started working with airlines that fly to Panama in order to verify.
Others have been caught with fake visas. The embassy is working also to end the practice of people taking up space in line then selling their spot for $20 CUC.
Any Cuban who enters Panama with fake documents is sent back to Cuba and is barred from entering Panama for five years.
In order to qualify for the one-entry, 30-day tourist visa, Cubans must meet one of the three following qualifications: Cuban citizens must have a private sector worker license, an artisan license or have traveled to Panama or any other country and returned to Cuba.
One day before the trip, applicants are asked to bring those documents, a copy of their passport and plane ticket along with the $20 fee.
Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela signed Decree 613 on Oct. 22, 2018. It gives Cuban citizens the opportunity to visit Panama via tourist cards.
"There is interest from Cuban citizens who want to visit our country," said Lopez, who added they have issued about 3,000 visas in less than two months, which is an average of 100-150 tourist visas daily.
It's no secret Cubans travel to places like Mexico, Guayana, Panama and even Russia to buy all types of goods they can sell on the black market back on the island.
Panama was already issuing more regular five-year visas -- about 2,500 a month.
Cubans did not have other ways of applying for that visa, Lopez said, so Panamanian officials wanted to give them an alternative.
Panama remains a hot destination for many in Latin America looking for affordable goods, he said.